Red Sox

Beckett determined to start off right

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Beckett determined to start off right

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

CLEVELAND -- When the Red Sox slotted Josh Beckett fourth in their starting rotation last month, it was with the idea that they could ease him into 2011 without exposing him to a difficult Texas Rangers lineup in his first start.

With the benefit of hindsight, it might not have mattered if the Sox had started Cy Young himself over the weekend in Arlington, where the Rangers bashed Boston pitching for 11 homers and 26 runs.

But the larger point remains: Beckett needs a fresh start after a 2010 season that began poorly -- then got impossibly worse.

The six wins Beckett earned were a career-low since he established himself in the big leagues, and his 5.78 ERA was easily the highest of his career.

A chastened and embarrassed Beckett returned to his native Texas over the winter determined to turn things around. He worked diligently with a trainer, as usual, but focused more on improving his core strength -- the better to avoid nagging back flareups which twice sidelined Beckett last season.

There were other changes, too. With input from new pitching coach Curt Young and others in the organization, Beckett fine-tuned his delivery this spring, seeking a more consistent release point.

And there was more: One person in the organization, watching Beckett throw in the opening of week of spring, spotted Beckett's grip on the baseball as he readied his delivery, meaning he was effectively tipping his pitches to hitters.

Together, the staff worked to streamline Beckett's mechanics, working toward a consistent release point for all his pitches, less movement during his delivery and a better disguise on his grip.

The changes, predictably, took some time. Beckett had two starts against Pittsburgh in one week, both of which featured big innings in which he was unable to work out of trouble.

But in his last two outings, and in particular, last Wednesday night in Houston, Beckett was his old dominant self.

"He never threw the ball like that all of last year,'' marveled one talent evaluator of his start against the Astros.

Even Beckett, notoriously difficult on himself, couldn't hide his satisfaction.

"I was really excited about the last two starts,'' he said, "the way the adjustments started to feel, the adjustments that we had made earlier in the spring. I took those adjustments into the game immediately, but they don't always show up right away. My last two, I really felt like they started clicking.''

Last Wednesday, in fact, looked like Beckett circa 2007, when he was arguably the best right-hander in the American League, first winning 20 games during the season and then all four of his postseason starts, leading the Sox to a title.

His fastball had great life. His changeup, which he threw too hard at times after coming to the American League, offered great deception. Only his curve looked as though it still needed work.

"I got more and more comfortable incorporating the adjustments,'' he said. "It's hard to make adjustments and then not revert back to something else during the game. That's when you know they're starting to feel comfortable, whenever they're the most natural thing you go to.''

Many observers believe Beckett may well hold the key to the 2011 Red Sox rotation.

Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz -- results of the first series notwithstanding -- are established front-of-the-rotation starters and John Lackey, though inconsistent, can usually offer his team innings.

Should Beckett re-discover the form he showed in 2007 and for long stretches of 2009, the rotation could truly be top-notch.

Motivation should not be an issue. Manager Terry Francona noted that Beckett was particularly attentive and focused from the beginning of camp. Not one for analyzing himself much off the field, he has mostly been low-key all spring, preferring to concentrate on work rather than making forecasts about his season.

If the demotion from one-time ace to No. 4 in the rotation -- whatever the reasons -- got to him, he did nothing to show it.

"It is what it is,'' said Beckett. "I've got to go out and pitch well on my day, one way or another, whatever day it is.''

But Francona feels that Beckett is a man on a mission: not because of where he is in the rotation this year, but what he did -- or more accurately, didn't do -- last year.

"I think his pride took a beating last year," Francona said. "I definitely agree with that. I think he feels like he has a lot to prove."

He can start Tuesday night when he makes his first start in Cleveland since Game Five of the 2007 ALCS. That night, with the Red Sox facing elimination, Beckett was brilliant, limiting the Indians to one run over eight innings while striking out 11.

Even with the Sox off to a nightmarish 0-3 start this season, the stakes aren't quite as high.

Then again, for a quietly determined Josh Beckett, maybe they are.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

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MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

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Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

Max Scherzer heard his name and thrust his arms in the air, shouting and smiling big before turning to kiss his wife.

Corey Kluber, on the other hand, gulped once and blinked.

Two aces, two different styles - and now another Cy Young Award for each.

The animated Scherzer of the Washington Nationals coasted to his third Cy Young, winning Wednesday for the second straight year in the National League. He breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Kluber's win was even more of a runaway. The Cleveland Indians ace took 28 first-place votes, easily outpacing Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox for his second AL Cy Young.

Scherzer yelled "yes!" when his award was announced on MLB Network, a reaction in keeping with his expressive reputation. He showed that intensity often this year, whether he was cursing under his breath like a madman during his delivery or demanding - also with expletives - that manager Dusty Baker leave him in the game.

Just a little different than the pitcher they call "Klubot." Kluber was stoic as ever when announced as the AL winner. He swallowed hard but otherwise didn't react, only showing the hint of a smile moments later when answering questions.

Not that he wasn't thrilled.

"Winning a second one maybe, for me personally, kind of validates the first one," Kluber said.

Scherzer's win moves him into rare company. He's the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs, and among the other nine, only Kershaw and Roger Clemens aren't in the Hall of Fame.

"That's why I'm drinking a lot of champagne tonight," Scherzer said.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit.

"This one is special," he said. "When you start talking about winning three times, I can't even comprehend it at this point."

Scherzer was 16-6 with a career-best 2.51 ERA this year. The 33-year-old righty struck out a league-leading 268 for the NL East champion Nationals, and in an era noted for declining pitcher durability, he eclipsed 200 innings for the fifth straight season. He had to overcome a variety of ailments to get there, and Washington's training staff was high on his thank-you list.

"Everybody had a role in keeping me out on the field," he said. "I'm very thankful for all their hard work."

Kershaw has won three NL Cy Youngs and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts. This is his second runner-up finish. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals finished third.

Kluber missed a month of the season with back pain and still easily won the AL award over Sale and third-place finisher Luis Severino of the New York Yankees. Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball. He added to the Cy Young he won with the Indians in 2014 and is the 19th pitcher to win multiple times.

The 31-year-old Kluber was especially dominant down the stretch, closing out the season by going 11-1 to help Cleveland win the AL Central. He and Minnesota's Ervin Santana tied for the major league lead with five complete games - nobody else had more than two. Kluber also led the majors with 8.0 wins above replacement, per baseball-reference.com.

Kluber and Scherzer both had rough outings in the playoffs. Kluber gave up nine runs over two starts in an AL Division Series against the Yankees, and Scherzer blew a save in the decisive Game 5 of an NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Scherzer said he couldn't even watch the League Championship Series, although he did tune in for the World Series.

"That will eat at me this whole offseason," he said.

Voting for the awards was completed before the postseason began.

The final BBWAA honors will come Thursday when the MVP awards are announced in the AL and NL.

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